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Predatory or legit? I dunno, but … GBP1500?

Predatory publishers or legit? It’s not always easy to spot. What about this one?

screeenshot of email asking me to contrinute to a book chapter; text extracts below.

Email from InTechOpen asking for a contribution to a book chapter.

Note how the list of institutions is empty!

Dear Dr. Goossens,

Due to your involvement in the field, and the research you published in your paper, “Synchrotron X-ray diffuse scattering from a stable polymorphic material: Terephthalic acid, C8H6O4,” IntechOpen invites you to extend your work and offer a more comprehensive overview of your studies. Contribute a chapter to “Synchrotron Radiation,” an upcoming Open Access book edited by Dr. Name Name.

Work with an internationally recognized peer group and gain increased visibility for your published work. Please visit the book project page to register your interest.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

Marija Gojevic-Zrnic, from IntechOpen
Author Service Manager

It’s correctly written, their website looks more or less professional, their books do certainly get printed and distributed — I’ve seen them in proper libraries. They’re open about their (high in my opinion) fees — £1500 for a 16 to 20 page chapter. So are they predatory or just expensive? I guess they’re just expensive.

I still would not publish with them.


Something like IUCrJ (fee of USD1300, or about £1000, so quite a bit cheaper) covers similar topics, is also open access, is part of a society publisher of high standing, has a reliable archiving policy and is embedded in all the major search engines and databases. I have no experience with the editorial process at InTech, and it may be very good, I can’t say, but I do know that the IUCr process is superb, with their editors doing more than just farming out the material to review — they genuinely interrogate it themselves.

The issue? IUCrJ might bounce the work! Also, book chapters are often more review-y and may not be publishable as papers.

But … if you are career-conscious, ask; will the book chapter collect citations anyway? Will it fall through the cracks of whatever research metric engine your bosses want to see quoted? Sadly, this is the reality. Monographs and book chapters might be excellent and important, but will they be noticed? I suggest finding a good-looking chapter or two from an InTech or similar volume and then checking its stats in whatever database you use for citation and impact metrics — Web of Science or whatever. Is it there? Are the numbers reasonable? And so on.

In the end, if you want to go open access, there are reputable journals that will take your money, and £1500 is enough to get into some pretty reputable ones. And conventional publication still exists. InTech might be OK, but check it out first and be aware of the options!

It’s all about due diligence.




PDF booklet-y stuff using pdfjam and pdftk

Say you scan an A5 booklet by opening it flat and scanning each pair of pages. You can then print it out in landscape, stapled on the left and you can read the whole booklet in order. But the pages are out of order if you want to make a new saddle-stapled booklet.

So, let’s say I have a PDF like this one:

Scrteenshot of the pdf, showing the arrangement of pages.

Spread from the PDF of the booklet — pages 4 and 5 scanned onto a single landscape A4 or letter paper page.

And I want to rearrange it so that I can make it into a proper (roughly A5-sized) booklet, stapled in the middle rather than along the edge. Well, there might be a tool for this, but …

(1) We open it in gv and find out that it’s 788 wide, half of which is 394. It’s also 598 high.

(2) Use to make 2 PDFs, one of the left half and one of the right half.

$ -t "0 0 394 0" quietriter.pdf quietriter1.pdf
$ -t "394 0 0 0" quietriter.pdf quietriter2.pdf

Looks good. (Hint: Some PDF viewers don’t view the cropped files correctly — if it looks wrong, try a different viewer before messing with the dropping commands).

Page order in quietriter1.pdf is: back cover (24) inside front cover (2) 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Page order in quietriter2.pdf is: front cover (1) 3 5 7 9 11 13 15 17 19 21 23

(3) Now, for booklet order, the simplest thing to do would be to put these in order (1, 2, 3, …, 24) then use pdfbook (part of pdfjam).

Sounds like a job for pdftk …

First, we’ll put the first page of quietriter1.pdf to the back. From what I can see, this should work:

$ pdftk quietriter1.pdf cat 2-12 1 output quietriter1a.pdf

(This conCATenates the selected page ranges in the order given.)

(4) Then we interleave 1a and 2 using shuffle, which is designed for just this sort of job:

$ pdftk A=quietriter1a.pdf B=quietriter2.pdf shuffle B A output quietriter_inorder.pdf

(5) Then we use pdfbook to reorder into booklet order.

pdfbook quietriter_inorder.pdf

That gives quietriter_inorder-book.pdf.

(6) We print the file double-sided with flip on long edge. (I just printed it from Acrobat, having done the command line manipulation running the PDF tools within Cygwin.)

(7) Looks good! Of course, there are no bleeds, but a quick saddle staple and then trimming with a guillotine and it looks very nifty, and a lot like an original booklet.

photo of the typewriter and manual.

The Remington Rand (Sperry Rand) Letter-Riter (what a terrible name for a typewriter!) with a facsimile of the manual, produced as outlined here.



Sorry is kind of sorry

Sorry: The wretched tale of Little Stevie Wright by Jack Marx

A review:

This is an odd book. My gut reaction to it is distaste. Marx paints both himself and Wright as untrustworthy junkies — which is most likely true — but in doing so he expends a lot of words on himself — for a biography, it’s remarkably autobiographical. Whether this reflects an inability to get much useful material out of Wright, or rampant ego on the part of the author, it’s hard to tell. Perhaps it needs to be viewed as the book plus the ‘making of’ documentary all rolled into one. In fact, that’s what it is.

image of the front cover of Sorry by Jack Marx.

Cover of Sorry by Jack Marx.

The structure consists of alternating sections, one lot following Stevie Wright through his — yes, wretched — life, the other following Marx as he deals with Stevie and Fay(e) and tries to get material for the book.

I’ll discuss them separately.

The main problem with the actual biography part is that it lacks detail and dates. It’s just not a very good biography. Are we in 1969 or 1967? Is it 1975 or 1972 or 1979? It’s impossible to tell. Only by reference to some external source — like the internet — can the reader actually get a sense of when any of this happened. There’s no context half the time, just a narrow focus on Stevie and his drug problems and the emptiness of his life. OK, that’s important — but it’s not everything.

To his credit, Marx evokes the junkie life pretty vividly. Correctly, I can’t say. There’s a core of analysis in the work that seems valid — that Wright spent his life looking for easy answers, waiting for things to go his way, and the quick fixes he indulged in along the way turned from being the means to being the end in getting through life. After the Easybeats, did he make a new path for himself in music (like Vanda and Young)? No. Did he consciously give it up and get a ‘real’ job and work at it like a grown-up, like Snowy and Dick Diamonde? No. Things sometimes fell his way — Jesus Christ Superstar, Hard Road, ‘Evie’ — and often didn’t, and he wasn’t equipped for the mundane slog.

So that half of the book is an intermittently insightful, intermittently evocative narrative that hangs in the air, without context, without grounding in time or space. Interesting, but weak.

The other half … is not that good.

We follow Marx as he stays with Wright and his woman, Fay(e). Marx feeds them money in return for promised cooperation on the book, cooperation we never actually see although near the end he refers to his tape recorder so presumably he has got something out of Wright. Marx drinks, shoots up, mistreats people and generally paints himself as someone most of us would not want to associate with. He indulges in long vignettes that have little or nothing to do with the subject. He seems keen to tell us, basically, how immersed he was in the gutter and presumably this makes his comments on Wright more credible. I don’t know. I should say I have never been a fan of the ‘presenter as star’ kind of thing. It’s like one of those nature documentaries where all we ever see is the presenter telling us how hard it is to find the animal of interest. What it amounts to is padding, making the tiny little bit of real footage go as far as possible.

This is like that. It’s like Marx realised he did not have a whole book, so he’s padded it out with his own adventures and his list of attempts to get the story — all of which are essentially the same (he gives them money, they blow it on drugs, they ask for more money).

Pretty unsatisfactory.

Lastly, it’s not clear what if any of the content was actually provided by Wright. Some is very personal, so presumably some of the book comes from actual interviews. Much of it reads like a potted version skimmed from elsewhere and then padded out by Marx’s attempts to guess what was going on inside the band or inside Wright’s head. There are no sources given, so we can only assume it’s either all from interviews or partly from interviews and partly made up, or it’s been gathered from other sources but Marx is too lazy to document them.

If this is ‘gonzo’ journalism, you can have it.

If you want to know what it’s like being a junkie trying to cadge information out of a junkie, it’s a very handy book.

Of course, the Easybeats were a great band, we must never forget that.


International Grant of mystery

Grant & I by Robert Forster

I’m an unusual Go-Betweens fan, if fan is the right word, precisely because fan may not be the right word. I am not rabid. I an not devoted. I just kind of like some of what they‘ve done over the years. If I was to believe the clichés in a lot of the writing about the band, that‘s not how it works. I picked up their CDs in a box. which was most excellent value, and I‘ve got a copy of Bellavista Terrace, and I’m pretty happy with that.

Anyway, Robert Forster‘s book is very easy to read. It evokes the days spent shaping the songs, and playing them, and living on not a huge amount of money.

bitmap image of the cover, showing Forster and McLennan.

Cover of Grant and I

As the title might suggest, it focuses on the relationship between Forster and Grant McLennan, it is really the story of a partnership. In places, it reads like Forster is trying figure out McLennan, a man who he knew for almost 30 years but who, we come to wonder, perhaps nobody knew. Forster tackles the subject with an and pretty analytical eye that is perhaps possible when so many years have passed.

As a rock n roll memoir, it’s pretty good, though I have not read the genre extensively. There’s no hint of a ghost writer — not surprising, given,the
quote on the back cover: ”It was our long-time predicament — Grant had too many melodies, I had too many words.“

With that title, you’d be entitled to wonder: do the other band members get the attention they deserve? And: I don’t know. This it not a biography of the band — the title tells us that — but it is the story of two men and the band they were in.

As always with these books, I would have liked to see the creative process better explored. How was a song shaped? Who brought what to it? There is a bit of that, but for me the act of creation rarely gets enough attention in books by creative people. I have sometimes wondered what makes for a song writing credit. Neither Jagger nor Richards ever told Charlie when to hit his drum, I‘m guessing. When asked about song writing credit within the Stones, Bill Wyman noted that ‘Under My Thumb’ isn’t much of a song without Brian’s marimba part. I mean, in some sense doesn’t the drummer write the drum part, the bass player the bass part? Is a song the words and the melody? The chord changes? It’s pretty clear that ‘Cattle and Cane‘ rises so high largely because of the drums. Yet …

Some bands (R.E.M., the Manics, Radiohead, Bluetones, late Clash and many more) attribute all the songs to everybody. Now, I am not a musician (clearly, I hear you say) so I guess maybe there are good reasons for bands dividing credit up how they do. Townshend brought fully formed demos with guide vocals, bass lines and drum tracks to the Who; he was clearly the songwriter.

Anyway, I did not quite get a sense of how they put a track together, though the division of credit suggests the Townshend style more than the Radiohead. I just hope it’s fair. (I believe there was some court action on that front by non-Forster/McLennan members of the group at some stage, so maybe those contributions were as substantial as, listening to the records, they seem.)

As I read I wondered at the absence of drugs — perhaps he was just being discrete — and then very late we get a mention of Hep-C and a kind of brief admission. And, much as I like the book, it does have a kind of ‘but it was all a dream’ quality — we need to reassess all that went before. When someone acted weird, or whatever, or argued, or whatever — was it really because of what the chapter suggested at that point in the book, or was is related to drug use? What pressures did that create inside the band?

I’m not that interested in drug use itself – it it was one of the more boring aspects of Keith’s Life — but in a book where personal relationships play a major role, drugs have to feature if we’re really to get a sense of the dynamics. They also have an impact creatively, good and bad. I don’t want drugs to play a major part, but I do want to know what part they played… or I would, as a reader who bought the book in order to find out more about Forster and the band, keeping in mind that Forster wrote the book, which implies a desire to tell.

All that sounds negative, but it’s really good. He evokes places economically and effectively, like a good novelist, and he’s reflective and analytical. There’s no sense of complaint when he looks at why they never became big stars, and not regret. The integrity with which he approached his music is quite apparent.

In summary: Well written, interesting, somewhat enlightening yet perhaps played just a little too close to the chest. Forster has thought hard about music and has a lot of interest to say, and on balance still a worthwhile read.


Physics in Focus for Year 11 second edition

It’s good when a book sells out its first print run then goes to a second edition. I recall someone telling me once that first editions should not be collectors items since every book has one but few go through multiple editions.

Regardless, I’ve seen the cover of the second edition of Physics in Focus for Year 11 , a textbook for high school physics students in New South Wales. It looks a lot like the first edition, but the cover says ‘Updated Feb 2018’ and ‘2nd edition’. The book complies fully with recent changes to the syllabus documents put out by the education authorities in the state. I wrote less of it than any of the other authors, so I cannot claim this is my doing, but it is still nice to see.

Bitmap image of the cover.

Cover of the second edition of Physics in Focus for Year 11, out now from Nelson/Cengage.

I am reliably informed it has just gone to the printers. The website may not even be updated yet.

There are older texts with the same name out there; anything in a different cover no longer reflects the current state of the syllabus, at least in NSW.



Try to forget The Sky Remembers

The Sky Remembers


Dan Brennan

NEL 1978

155 pages

This is quite possibly the worst book I have ever managed to finish. Doing so was an effort of will, undertaken for reasons that are not clear to me but may involve my desire to write this review.

Colour scan of the cover, front and back.

Cover of The Sky Remembers by Brennan; this is the best bit of the book.

The story is simple enough. A cocky fighter pilot, a real leader of men, has had the stuffing knocked out of him by a near death experience. He’s recuperating, he’s lost his bottle, but it’s the darkest days of the Battle of Britain and he’s needed in the air.

He battles through his overwhelming doubt and his many losses and proceeds to return to the fight.

It could be all right. But the prose…

extract 1

It’s relentless. It goes on like some kind of incantation. Here’s a bit more:

extract 2

And on it goes. It reminds me of Beckett’s The Unnameable, but not in a good way. It’s 155 pages but a well-written 50 could have made this an evocative little piece. Instead, the author flings words at the reader in a desperate attempt to convince and evoke. Why say something once when you can say it three times?

The longest 155 pages I have ever read.

Book bashing.

Announcement – A Hand of Knaves TOC — David Versace

The table of contents for CSFG’s upcoming anthology A Hand of Knaves has just been released. I am pleased to announced that my story “A Moment’s Peace” is in the mix. (It’s a fantasy-world burglary featuring a point man with an unusual condition). You can see the full list of authors and titles here. A…

via Announcement – A Hand of Knaves TOC — David Versace

Hurin — heavy going

Children of Hurin

J R R Tolkien

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in my early teens and enjoyed them well enough. I read The Silmarillion a few years later, and actually quite liked it, in a funny way. I mean, if approached as a novel it is not really adequate; but then by modern standards many long narratives are not really novels in the sense of being a story of evolution of character, or at least a character with a problem to solve. As pseudomythology, The Silmarillion is an interesting exercise. Creation myth, evil coming into the world, fate and doom, etc. I quite liked Melkor/Morgoth as a mythological figure. Driven to take part in creation but limited to a subservient role by the deity, he decided he needed his own world to rule. And though in the end defeated, his influence could never be eradicated. As he poured his spite and lies into the world, he became less, more limited, more worthy of scorn himself. Turning the world dark cost him his own substance yet meant that the world could never be free of his shadow. It’s a neat idea, well implemented.

So in that great battle of mere Men and Elves against the he who had been the right hand of the creator, there were, the prefatory material tels us, three key tales that Tolkien wanted to flesh out. This is the one that he came closest to finishing and thus the one tht allowed itself to be shaped into a coherent volume without the need for new text. And because Tolkien is a name to conjure with, and to sell many book, here we have Children of Hurin.

It is really the tragedy of Turin, son of Hurin. Powerful, impetuous, he fights and flees and fights and flees and where’er he goes Morgoth’s hordes follow and wreak destruction, such that Turin is like a plague, bringing disaster upon whoever helps him.

It’s all very high and mighty and mythic. But it is also more like a ‘normal’ story than The Silmarillion — it’s more like a novel. And weirdly that (for me) makes it less successful than The Silmarillion (caveat — I was young when I read the latter, and perhaps less critical). It makes no sense to judge The Silmarillion as a novel, but Hurin is a novel, yet the plot is like a Greek myth, the hero more like Beowulf, and the result is a weird clashing. Turin is so stupid! He is this great fighter who eggs on his supporters to fight Morgoth and so brings them destruction, and then he utterly fails to learn anything from this. In a myth, that might work, when everything is seen from a distance, like chess pieces viewed from above. But in a novel we expect at least  some kind of  sense from our actors, so his behaviour just fails to ring true and so undermines the whole story; we have grandeur, but no sense. “Who is carrying the idiot ball this week?” 

When reading The Iliad, an adjustment modern readers have to make is that the players do emphatically not rise and fall based on their own strengths as people. They rise and fall based on who is favoured by the gods, which can make the plot seem arbitrary and lacking in internal motivation. It is a fundamental split from what we have come to expect in our fiction since probably the 18th century at least. Hurin needs to be read in a similar way, at least that’s what I found; I had to make a conscious effort to not expect what I usually expect from a novel. (What do I implicitly expect? A person has a problem, external or internal, and makes attempts to solve it/overcome it/avoid it. These attempts at least seem reasonable to the reader or seem like the kinds of things the protagonist would actually do given their character. A skillful writer can make the protagonist very different from the reader and yet still reasonable to the reader. ) 

Turin never becomes enough of a character for me to see his actions as reasonable in his terms, yet behaves irrationally in my terms. I think that’s why the book ultimately was unsatisfactory. The book is interesting if Tolkien’s world is interesting. It is not at all bereft of grandeur and striking images, notably the battle with Glaurung. Worth a read for the fan of fantasy, but it must be recognised that it is closer in tone to The Silmarillion than to The Lord of the Rings.



The Balloon Factory — a travel book

The Balloon Factory by Alexander Frater

The cover says ‘the story of the men who built Britain’s first flying machines’ but what it really is is ‘The story of the author’s journey to go to places related to the men who built Britain’s first flying machines’. There is a lot of the author in this book. Now, if you like the author to take centre stage and tell us about his own flying lessons and about how he went to Africa (or whatever) and the interesting chap he had lunch with while researching this book, then that suits fine. It’s a bit like those nature documentaries where we mostly see the presenter talking about their efforts to find the animal, rather than the animal itself.

Cover of <i>The Balloon Factory</i> by Alexander Frater.

Cover of The Balloon Factory by Alexander Frater.

The book contains some stuff about Sam Cody, De Havilland and Sir George Cayley, and J. W. Dunne who made strange but effective aeroplanes and An Experiment with Time. It is written with great fluency and charm, and does indeed contain some interesting information. Perhaps because written by a travel writer, it does not spend too much time on the technical aspects but tells the human stories of its protagonists, and they are an interesting bunch. On the other hand, it is far from comprehensive — there were many significant figures (the Short brothers, for example) who get very little attention. The author has been captured by a couple of personalities, mainly Cody who seems to occupy fully half the book, and so the picture is skewed and highly personal.

Despite the title, there is very little in it on balloons. Just FYI.

Conclusion: If you like a congenial host getting between you and the material and telling you his story as well as the story of his subject, this is a very pleasant read. If you prefer a book to focus on the subject rather than the teller, this may not suit. It is not a bad book, but it may not be what you expect.


What you expect.

Physics in Focus — a new text for Year 11 science

I am now a textbook author! Well, one chapter out of fourteen… it’s a team effort. It’s a new Year 11 physics book for New South Wales, launched now for use in 2018; I have a couple of chapters in the Year 12 book, due out for 2019.

This book is Physics in Focus from Cengage. Here is the link to it:

And sample chapter (pdf).

And here is the cover.

The cover of <I>Physics in Focus</I> for year 11 students. My first textbook!

The cover of Physics in Focus for year 11 students. My first textbook!

There’s a big difference between knowing the physics and writing about it. One of the main things that I had to get used to was the constraints imposed by the curriculum. It is set at a high level and we work against specific dot points, which reduces scope for initiative but provides certainty and structure, and makes sure the book meets the needs to the teachers who are tasked with delivering that curriculum. The other thing was thinking about the language — it has to suit the audience. The kinds of sentences found in a scientific paper just don’t meet the criteria for clarity, simplicity and reading ease.

I’m waiting for my author’s copy to arrive in the post. Maybe I should get together a shelf of stuff instead of putting it in the cardboard box with my handful of other publications.